The Game of Elections: Should it be Played or Not?
Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Jee Khalra. Originally published in Liberation Khalistan (February 1992), translated from the original Punjab by the Panth-Punjab Editorial team.
In the early 1990s, Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Jee Khalra founded and edited a monthly magazine known as “Liberation Khalistan.” In this article, Bhai Jaswant Singh dissects the nature of electoral politics and the conditions they occur in, drawing our attention to powerful parallels today. Bringing his thoughts on Sikh liberation to the foreground, this article shatters the manufactured image of Bhai Jaswant Singh as an apolitical activist by illustrating his deep commitment to radical transformation and Sikh resistance.
The recent announcement to hold elections in East Punjab has reignited debate in Sikh circles. Almost every jathebandi is making their pitch in favour or opposition to participation, while entrenching themselves in their respective positions. Although no Sikh jathebandi has been able to establish the electoral path as the unequivocal means to liberate Khalistan, many are busy advocating for participation as a stepping stone in this direction.
The literal meaning of ‘election’ is to choose a representative to play a limited role within the carefully constructed parameters of the existing system. Along these lines, today’s elections are taking place in unique circumstances for a unique purpose–and under unique conditions. For this reason, we have to clearly understand the circumstances before arriving at a conclusion about our next steps.
The unique situation we are facing is that the Sikh qaum has been waging a relentless struggle for independence. In response, India’s Hindu state is waging war against Sikhs in the name of the “unity and integrity” of India.
More than 50,000 freedom fighters have made the ultimate sacrifice for Khalistan. About 50,000 Khalistani heeray (diamonds) have been languishing in jails for years. Many are waiting to kiss the rope at the gallows. Bhai Satwant Singh and Bhai Kehar Singh have surpassed even Sarabha and Bhagat Singh. More than 500,000 Indian Army and countless more paramilitary forces are hunting Sikh naujawan day and night. We are bearing the brunt of more draconian laws than anywhere else in the world.
The Indian state is imposing elections in these Machiavellian conditions and now the task before us is to counter this political farce.
Today, no Sikh jathebandi–no matter how cowardly or weak–will dare to claim that these elections can be a means of solving any of the problems afflicting Sikhs today. To justify their pursuit of power however, many are manipulating their words, to term their participation as a means to “protect our rights”.
For whatever reason, the parliamentary Akali factions are choosing to stay away this time–whether due to their recent failures, or some other political calculation–their absence from the electoral process is a healthy development. Nonetheless, many aspiring politicians have decided to jump into the fray and are engrossed in mental gymnastics to justify their decision. It is imperative that we bring their arguments under the microscope to eliminate any confusion within the qaum on this issue.
Some are arguing that they wish to participate to show the world that “Sikhs also believe in democracy”. They suggest that if Sikhs boycott elections, the world will take this to mean that these people are undemocratic. Those who make this ridiculous argument are (intentionally or unintentionally) distorting the meaning of democracy. Democracy doesn't just mean ballot boxes. The right of any people to determine their own destiny is the foundation on which democracy is built.
Being able to decide whether to live with, or sever ties with any political structure is a key democratic right. The ability of every citizen to be able to choose whether or not to accept the constitution of a country is a key democratic right. Choosing whether or not to participate in any election is also a key democratic right. Elections are not democracy in and of themselves, especially not when we break elections from this foundational understanding of democracy as the right and means to determine one’s own future in any number of ways.
“Stepping Stone” Towards Khalistan
Some say that if they were to win election and pass a resolution for Khalistan, then this should be taken as an understanding that Khalistan will become a reality. They say as a result of this [resolution] it will become clear to the whole world that the entire Sikh community wants its freedom. When making this argument, these individuals begin from the assumption that the world just needs to be convinced that Sikhs want their freedom.
These brothers do not understand that countless Palestinians are languishing in refugee camps as they aspire to statehood. Millions in the North East of India have made their commitment to freedom outside of India unequivocally clear to the “world”. Let us refocus our attention on other elections. For many years in Burma, the winning party has not only been kept out of power but its leaders have not even been released from prison–the “world” has done nothing about it. Elections could not even help the Nobel prize winning party leader get even an hour long parole to receive the award.
These people also argue that states in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have achieved independence by electing favourable governments and passing resolutions–but these events did not unfold the way they think. It is like celebrating a buffalo finally being freed of ticks after it’s already died. If the Soviet Union and its founding ideology, Marxism, had not crumbled, these assemblies would not have even considered approving such resolutions for another 70 years.
Fighting on Every Front
Many say that they do not want any battlefield to be left wide open for our enemies. Following this logic, they argue that by taking the fight for Khalistan to every venue gives us another opportunity to defeat anti-Sikh forces. Using this tactic, they argue that they will fight elections in conjunction with the ongoing armed struggle.
Viewed in terms of military strategy, it is a contradictory argument to accept elections as a decisive battlefield when this field itself was literally created for the very purpose of imprisoning us. Falling into this trap, we destabilize and scatter the power of the qaum and invite electoral defeat to instill another wave of hopelessness as we saw due to the shortcomings of the 1989 parliamentary candidates.
Means for Some Relief
Some argue that if they win and form a government in Punjab, they will repeal the draconian laws, release Sikh political prisoners and gain other concessions which will further strengthen the Khalistan movement. If such amenities and concessions could help strengthen and support the Khalistan movement, then such limited facilities were available for thirty years from 1947 to 1977 but Khalistan was not formed then. If favourable conditions alone can strengthen the movement, then there is much of this conducive space in Southall (UK), what do they think about the strength of the movement there?
There are a number of other arguments that strongly advise Sikhs to resort to a more “diplomatic” approach to the struggle. What they mean when they say “diplomatic” however, is to think one thing and say something else. Say one thing and do something else instead. On this basis, they say that swearing on the Indian Constitution is not a bad thing, even if the Constitution is bad. They claim that they will win the election and pass resolutions against India–washing away their “sins”. The origins of this logic can be found in the seminal theoretician of Indian politics, Chankiya, who laid the foundation of Brahminical politics. We are taught that if we want to succeed, we should follow this Machiavellian approach but if we want to maintain our morals and ethics, we will continue to be beaten down.
Some honest brothers who have made many sacrifices are intrigued by this argument and say that this is the reality of politics and war. If we pause to reflect however, it will hit us: if this is the path to victory then who is the one actually losing? The Khalsa panth seeks to wield political power as instructed by Gurmat. The Khalsa is not fighting with the Indian state to set the price of wheat and paddy–the Khalsa is fighting to establish the principles and value of dharam. If the Khalsa renounces this very dharam and goes to war by adopting Brahminical influences, then on which definition will victory and defeat be decided?
This is like the tale of the battle between the elephant and the lion. When the lion thought that he needed to be as tall as the elephant in order to defeat him, he begged the horse “Let me stand on your back to fight the elephant.” When he got on the horse and squared off against the elephant, the elephant laughed at him and said that there is no point in fighting anymore. “You have lost the confidence to fight on your own terms, and that is why you tried to imitate me instead. At this point, whether you win or lose is meaningless–you’ve already accepted defeat.”
If we are willing to adopt the immoral standards of Brahmanism in order to “win” the election, then we should immediately accept we are not living up to the high standards of Sikhi. Then we have already accepted our ultimate loss and who “wins” and “loses” the election is meaningless.
For those who do not know, it is important to understand that in order to contest an election, every candidate must swear by the weight of their conscience that they fully accept the Constitution of India and will work to uphold and abide by it. Upon winning the election, the candidate must swear again that they will protect the Indian Constitution in order to take their seat in the assembly. If we take the name of the Khalsa panth and approve the practice of taking false oaths, then we do not deserve any right to comment on the moral bankruptcy of Brahmanism.
In such conditions, even if we were to win every election or create our own state–we will still not be able to give the people anything different from India’s Brahminical society. Even before Khalistan was formed, we would have already conceded moral defeat by adopting this compromised path. So, let us commit to fighting our battle till victory according to the high and truthful standards of our dharam. As for those who say that they will not contest the elections directly themselves but will have proxy candidates, we cannot do anything but laugh. If participating in the elections is the right decision, then why don't they participate themselves? If participation is wrong then why do they motivate others to walk a false path?
Whether you agree with this or not, timidness and duplicity are never good.
Openly declare whatever it is that you genuinely believe, and live up to your words with honesty and integrity. Treading this path, we will all benefit, as will the world.
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